National Confab and the difficulties ahead


Monday, 7th April, 2014

By Chukwudi Nweje – Assistant Features Editor


Two weeks after President Goodluck Jonathan officially inaugurated the 2014 National Conference it appears the only serious business the 492 delegates have executed is resolving the voting consensus required to adopt a resolution.  When the Secretary to the Federal Government, Anyim Pius Anyim, released the report of the Senator Femi Okurounmu-led Presidential Advisory Committee (PAC) in January, he had noted that: “Decisions at the National Conference shall be by consensus; but where it is not achievable; it shall be by 75% majority…” The delegates have after stormy debates resolved that 75% majority, which represents three-quarters majority votes may be difficult to attain and have brought down the required votes to 70%. The other serious thing they have dwelt on is debating the President’s inaugural speech that is if there was any need to do that.

Two weeks and counting now, these two subjects, the delegates have rather spent hours arguing over frivolities.  If they are not arguing over sitting arrangements as if occupying the front row would make an argument more convincing or transform a bench-warmer or sleeper delegate into a vibrant debater, they are fighting over allowances for the chain of personal aides some of them brought along.   Now, the delegates are fighting over the feeding arrangement by the leadership of the confab. While some of them expressed disappointment about the poor quality of food, others said they wanted the food to be monetised to enable them to source for food outside the conference venue. A delegate from the South South, Mr. J.I Ebinum, had moved a motion to stop the secretariat from the provision of lunch for the delegates, arguing that the caterer handling the feeding services had failed to make enough food available despite complaints to that effect. When the Chairman of the conference, Justice Idris Kutigi, put the matter to vote, the delegates rejected the motion and trooped out to the restaurant to eat.

The conduct of some of these delegates makes one wonder what the National Conference is meant to achieve. In October last year, when he announced an advisory committee to establish modalities for convening of the National conference, President Jonathan had argued that: “When there are issues that constantly stoke tension and bring about friction, it makes perfect sense for the interested parties to come together to discuss…”

Thus, when the 492 delegates converged at the National Judicial Institute (NJI, Nigerians that stayed behind, said that they knew the importance of the national assignment they were on and take it seriously. After all, it is a conference that would make or break the country.  However, indications are that some of them went there to feather their own nests.

The Coalition Against Corrupt Leaders (CACOL) has expressed dismay by the conduct of some delegates. Debo Adeniran, Executive Chairman of the Coalition, described the fighting over feeding arrangement as “gluttonous” arguing that many of the delegates seemed to have forgotten the reason for the conference.

“It’s high time some of the delegates realised that the Conference is meant to discuss critical issues about Nigeria and chart a new course for the country and not just to deliberate on inconsequential things. The rejection of food by some of them is a pointer to the selfishness of our so-called leaders. It shows clearly that many are at the conference for the material gains. Just some weeks into the conference, many of them have forgotten why they are there. The other time, it was some of them demanding allowances for their aides.

“The vacant seats and the pattern of debate show many absentee participants and people who are just there to sleep away their time. Only a few appear on television interviews, many don’t even make contributions, but became active when the debate is on personal gains,” he lamented.

He added that “if the delegates felt that
the food they were served was not good enough, they should have offered to procure food for themselves from their conference allowances rather than demanding they monetise it. They should have it at the back of their mind that part of what they are to do at the confab is to reduce the cost of governance and profligacy in government; hence, they shouldn’t be seen to be partaking in such profligacy.

“They should also realise that they will give account of whatever they are given at the conference to the community that sent them. They should therefore endeavour to come back with a neat balance sheet of their receipts and expenditures of the conference allowances,” he said.

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